By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Expectations of a fiery Augusta National have been tempered by the prospect of rain before Thursday’s opening round at the Masters.
There has barely been a cloud in the sky for the past few days, and low humidity has helped produce a firm and fast layout that is just the way the Masters committee likes it.
But a forecast for numerous thunderstorms in the overnight hours of Thursday morning, and a 90 percent chance of rain, suggests the course will be softened up by Mother Nature for the first round.
Rain is expected to clear out by the start of the event and the forecast calls for dry weather the rest of the tournament.
Sunny weather should help the course, which drains well, dry out relatively quickly.
Strong winds of up to 25 miles per hour (40 kph) are forecast for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, which will also help restore green speeds and no doubt provide a stern challenge for the world’s best players in the first major of the year.
American Rickie Fowler was licking his lips at the prospect of strong winds that can make it even more difficult hitting approach shots into Augusta National's sloping greens.
“I love playing in the wind,” said the 27-year-old who went to college in windswept Oklahoma and now lives in windy south Florida.
“If it blows like it’s supposed to, everyone’s going to be playing the same course, same conditions, so it will be fun.
“This is a place that already demands (controlling ball flight) without any wind. It’s a challenge I definitely look forward to.”
Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, said: “Rain dictates a lot.
“There are some days where you feel like you’ve got to get it (shoot a low score)," he said about taking advantage of soft, receptive greens.
"I know there are devices to get rid of that saturation, but there’s only so much you can do.”
Ernie Els said he was excited by the prospect of firm conditions.
“The course is very fast and very firm this year which kind of suits me, because I can get the ball out there a bit,” the South African said, perhaps unaware of the weather forecast.
(Editing by Larry Fine)